Many of the best things in life happen while walking. Surprising things.
One lovely summer evening years ago, for example, while climbing the Big M stairs, my family and I were surprised by a tiny little grey cat that came out of nowhere. Her scrawny and scruffy little form told us she was in desperate need of food and shelter, and her meow pleaded with us to help her. That she would not leave us, even as we were getting into the car, we took as watertight evidence this cat was not going to survive if we left her there. We all agreed there was no other choice but to take her home.
Sassy, the name one of our girls picked for her, made surprisingly quick friends with the other member of our household, Clouzot, our chocolate lab. They were both happy as clams together. In fact, life seemed idyllic for many months as Florence and I, our two girls, and our dog and cat lived comfortably in our first little house on Cedar Street in Platteville.
Until our oldest was diagnosed with allergies to dogs and cats.
As hard as breaking up this happy family seemed, it was easy to make the decision to find other homes for Clouzot and Sassy. We needed a healthy home for our girls. We managed to place Clouzot with good friends who already owned several other dogs. He would be happy with new canine friends to play with. Sassy went to the daughter of my former second-grade teacher, remarkably one who also happened to be my daughter’s second-grade teacher.
As I now remember that day we thought we were merely venturing out to walk some stairs at the M, I also connect our outing to saving that little feline’s life. And our family will always hold warm memories of those months together with Clouzot and Sassy.
Countless are the other many cherished memories I hold of walks long and short here and there throughout the decades. Moments with loved ones and old friends, some of whom I’ll never see again. Unforgettable sunsets, sweeping vistas, weather both pleasant and foul, and a million little things from a spectacularly bright red-spotted newt I helped cross the road one day to the intoxicating bouquet of balsam trees on a quiet little street I’ve walked or run at least a thousand times. Literally.
Other things happen that we don’t see or even think about. Not just the old boring routine stuff but truly surprising things.
Like the fact walking greatly lowers the impact of obesity-promoting genes. According to Harvard researchers, people who walk briskly and regularly cut the effectiveness of these obesity genes by as much as half. Yes, just by walking.
Walking also tames cravings for chocolate and other sugary snacks. It doesn’t just burn calories as so many people think; it actually helps you make better choices and stick to your plan to eat fewer sweets. True story.
Walking is also shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, ease joint pain, and boost your immune function. All those are rather surprising in addition to the more widely known facts that walking offers a host of other health benefits, including reducing your blood pressure.
And all this is precisely why I am so glad to be organizing again this year two important walking opportunities open to everyone.
The first is Southwest Health’s free walking club. We call our group Sole Mates in recognition of the tremendous SOCIAL benefits of walking with others. Those benefits are tangible and real and important. Like living longer. Like better physical and mental health. And a reduced risk of dementia. Not to mention social connections also help us learn new things, avoid burnout, and get the emotional support we all need in life.
What’s more, Sole Mates is free and easy to join. Really all you have to do is show up. It’s a good idea to sign up for the club though in order to keep up on club happenings, find out where we’re walking each week, and hear when the weather cancels our plans. Registering is easy, too. Just go to southwesthealth.org/walk. On that same web page, one can also find a link to our Facebook page as well as a downloadable pdf walking log to keep track of your miles.
Best yet, Sole Mates is free of judgment, too. So no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, how fast you walk, or how far you want to go, you’re always welcome among Sole Mates. Anyone who can walk for 15 minutes can join Sole Mates, but it’s great for those who want to walk longer, too. We will always tailor our walks to meet the needs of those who show up. We often simply split into a couple groups for those who want to walk farther or faster, shorter or more slowly. And that makes Sole Mates always a perfect and flexible fit.
The second big opportunity for walking is our 100 Miles in 100 Days Walking Challenge. It’s been so wildly popular in past years, we’re bringing it back again. Anyone can join the Challenge, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The Challenge officially began with our first walk of the season on Monday, May 20th at 5:15 pm from Katie’s Garden at the Platteville Regional Chamber on Business Highway 151. For many, that was the beginning of their 100 mile (or more) journey, but the Challenge is still open. Anyone can join at anytime.
One has only to sign up and log their miles. Everyone with a total of 100 or more by the time September 24th rolls around gets the free, official 100 Mile Challenge t-shirt. Find out more or sign up at southwesthealth.org/walk. Or simply call us at (608) 342-0995.
Many memorable moments and wonderful unseen surprises await. You never know where a walk will take you.